Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Writing Tips: YA Word Counts

Alright, so I am by no means a writing expert. This is all very new to me. I am constantly reading other blogs, looking up articles, and clicking on links in tweets by actual experts on how to improve my craft. My hope is that as time goes by, I will be able to give some valuable tips of my own. But for now I am OK sharing with you what I have found elsewhere and adding in my own thoughts and experiences. Today's topic: YA word counts. 

Chuck Sambuchino is an industry leader in the world of writing and publishing. I follow him on twitter and Writer's Digest is always tweeting links to his columns. Here's what he says:

"Perhaps more than any other, YA is the one category where word count is very flexible.

For starters, 55,000 – 69,999 is a great range. 
The word round the agent blogosphere is that these books tend to trending longer, saying that you can top in the 80Ks. However, this progression is still in motion and, personally, I’m not sure about this. I would say you’re playing with fire the higher you go.  When it gets into the 70s, you may be all right—but you have to have a reason for going that high. Again, higher word counts usually mean that the writer does not know how to edit themselves.
A good reason to have a longer YA novel that tops out at the high end of the scale is if it’s science fiction or fantasy. Once again, these categories are expected to be a little longer because of the world-building.
Concerning the low end, below 55K could be all right but I wouldn’t drop much below about 47K."
**To read this full article on Writer's Digest click here: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post

I have to agree with Mr. Sambuchino. Most books in the YA genre tend to be in those ranges. I also agree that books are trending longer. Writers are finding that teens like smart, well written stories and bigger books don't necessarily scare them away. Personally, I don't ever remember a time in my life when I didn't want to read something because it was "too long." Maybe that's just me but if the story looks interesting, I will read it.

Here's a great site where you can compare your YA WIP to others in your genre: http://www.renlearn.com/store/quiz_home.asp

This one was really helpful to me. I looked up some YA historical fantasy novels (since that's what my manuscript is) and compared my word count to theirs. What I found (besides some comfort in where my word count is) was that most of the recently released, popular YA books are closer to 90k. Many are over 100k. There are some that are even higher. 
My YA novel started out WAY too long and as a first time writer I really had no clue about word counts until I started researching them. (Thank you Writers Digest for a tweet on word counts because otherwise I wouldn't have known!) I thought my novel was great the way it was. So when I read that long word counts tended to happen to first time authors who didn't know how to edit, I was like: "Um I have edited and it's still that high so that's just how long it needs to be." I didn't think I could cut anything out without losing character development, world building, or other important story elements. So I did some more research thinking that surely there were lots of exceptions of first time writers being published when their novels were higher than the acceptable word count for their genre. I thought if they got published then maybe I can too. As it turns out, there aren't many exceptions. And you shouldn't assume your novel is so good that you'll be one. Publishers spend a lot of money printing and marketing books so if you don't have the credentials to back up the risk they would be taking on you then they will tell the agent representing your book "no thanks." It's all about the money and publishers want to spend as little as possible and get as much in profit as they can. Agents get a cut of that money too and they don't want to take on a book that's too long if no publisher will want to buy it. Most agents won't even look at your manuscript if your word count isn't what they deem acceptable. They have tons of queries and manuscripts they are going through everyday so high word counts are an easy way for them to cut through the slush pile. So with all this in mind, I decided to get down to business. I want my book to get published so I am willing to do whatever it takes. I read through my manuscript about 5 more times with my only focus being getting rid of what was unnecessary. Guess what? I was able to cut out 39k words (yeah, it was that long). And doing so didn't cause me to lose anything important to my story. In fact, it only made it better. And I became a better writer in the process. *sidenote of thanks to my sister for reading my manuscript before those cuts!*

A final website I found useful and I go to a lot is Jessica Khoury's website. She's the author of the YA book Origin. The book, and the woman, are awesome. I saw Jessica on tour in Austin and I was blown away by her intelligence. Her blog has an article on YA word counts and a list of popular YA titles with their counts. I like how she compares two of the Harry Potters to show that word counts can go up once you've established yourself as an author. Here's the link to her post: http://jnkhoury.blogspot.com/2012/01/list-of-popular-ya-novels-word-counts.html
Well, that's all. Thanks for reading! Hope this helps (: